“Nocturnal Animals” isn’t young English actress Ellie Bamber’s first movie, or her first dalliance with America. But it was still a crash course in both. The latest from fashionista-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford is a jam-packed tale, with a story within the film about a family who are attacked by ne'er-do-wells while driving through West Texas. Bamber, 19, plays the teenage daughter (to parents played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Isla Fisher). The assault on them is long and intense. But Bamber’s had it rough before: She played one of the undead-battling Bennet sisters in the film of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”
Bamber talks to us about loving going to dark places, her love of Joy Division and Tom Ford (while wearing Tom Ford).
I feel like I should ask about Michael Shannon, who plays a Texas detective here. You two only share one scene, though you don’t, as it happens, have any lines together. He’s a very intense actor, but I’m wondering what he’s like to work with?
He’s super, super intense. But also very authentic. I don’t think anyone really susses him out. That’s the whole point: It’s hard to figure him out. But he’s such a great guy.
Onscreen he’s very mysterious.
But he’s mysterious in a way that isn’t overly affectated. It almost comes naturally to him.
He’s been saying that Tom Ford would make jokes or just be fun in general to lighten the mood during really intense scenes. You have one of the most intense scenes in the movie. Was he doing that for you?
He definitely did that. He also really spoke to me about the Texan culture and how they live. Because he’s from there himself. He would talk about [India’s] naivete. He had an incredible way of saying, “But it’s not her fault. All she means is good, all she means is well.” He was always detailed and complimentary about the characters.
And it’s a very intense scene, especially for someone relatively new to movies.
I loved it. I sound like a crazy person, I know. But I would get home to my hotel and sit there and think, ‘Wow, that was amazing to have gone through that, to have really felt that.’ It’s something I definitely want to do again.
To be in an incredibly intense, unpleasant scene?
Yeah, absolutely. I remember going home, [and] my dad looked at me and said, “You’ve really grown up.” [Laughs] I’d only been away for nine weeks! But it was kind of true. It taught me a lot about acting, but also about myself and how important it is to really value the things around you and value your family and appreciate what you have right in front of you.
What did you parents think when they saw the script?
They were super cool, actually. They realized it was a film and it’s not me I’m playing. My friends definitely found it hard. I remember my friends coming out of the cinema and phoning me: “I found it really, really difficult to watch you in that scenario.”